Monday, January 31, 2011

65th birthday (re-)revisited

my first two blog posts in august concerned the braxton birthday benefit bash which took place last june in new york. at the time, only some of the music played at the main concert (june 18th) was available, namely the parts of it which featured the "birthday boy" himself; the rest of it turned up here, one month ago today. (i left them a comment correcting their personnel details for the gtm set, though i wrongly assumed at the time that the actual music files would be taken down after a couple of weeks; this always used to be the case with that site, but apparently hasn't been for some time now... evidently it's been a long while since i last visited their pages!)

it's a very interesting and varied line-up to be sure. the evening kicked off with an "invocation" by matthew welch (bagpipe specialist and - i believe - former wesleyan student, previously known to braxtophiles from his participation in the recorded version of comp. 247; he also recorded a full album of b's solo compositions, which alas i haven't heard *). the bagpipes are a strange beast, originally as much a weapon as a musical instrument (used on the battlefield by the scots, both to stir up the blood of the soldiers and to strike fear into the hearts of the enemy), and they have a very strictly limited pitch range and tonal palette, but they are well-suited for certain ritual purposes and do a good job of opening proceedings here. in the last minute of the performance, welch introduces a subvocalisation into his playing which completely transforms the sound, to thrilling effect.

the intricately-interwoven duet which followed, by steve coleman and jonathan finlayson, is listed on bigo's page as "unknown braxton" but there is no explanation given as to who supplied this info or how they know it's b's material being played. i certainly can't identify it, not that that means it wasn't a braxton piece; after all, there are so many to choose from! the most obvious place to look for comparisons was the april 5th 2003 concert at tonic by b. and wadada leo smith, released on two cds by pi recordings; the music played on that occasion included three braxton compositions, but the coleman/finlayson duet doesn't match any of those... i'm at a loss really to know where else to search! in any case the music is very much in the required spirit, and coleman's amusing speech (in the second part) strikes just the right balance between respect and irreverence. [coleman needs no introduction from me, of course; and although he's never been associated with b's music as far as i know, his status as a hugely-influential alto player, bandleader and composer in his own right makes him an ideal choice for such an occasion, a torch-bearer of sorts... finlayson is rather less well known, but already has an impressive cv; besides his membership of coleman's groups, he is currently associated with mary halvorson (among others) and plays on her much-debated saturn sings album.]

next up on the night was the richard teitelbaum set, which unexpectedly became a duet with the man of the day - this one, along with the other two sets featuring b., is discussed briefly here (fwiw my own indexed rips of the music are still available for download). this in turn was followed by nicole mitchell's black earth strings (though bigo's rips place these on "disc two", out of sequence in order to fit them in together). unfortunately, no data is provided here as to precise personnel or track titles; one or two of the pieces almost sound braxtonesque, but i don't think any of them are b's compositions. as the band's name suggests, strings dominate the sound palette here, but for me at least mitchell's own magnificent flute playing is what demands the attention.

the fifth set was the all-star, one-off (?) grouping of john zorn, dave douglas, brad jones and gerry hemingway. perhaps unwisely (or perhaps it's just me) they chose to open with their very energetic reading of comp. 23d, after which the remaining two numbers come as a bit of anticlimax... these are one piece each by douglas and zorn (apparently - i'm reliant on the info provided by the site for that). the braxton number itself, considering it's essentially a ballad structure, is attacked with real vigour. suffice it to say, the excitement suggested by the quartet's line-up is realised in the performance.

- and that brings us to the final two sets, both also discussed previously on this blog. (the trio/quartet reunion set is one unindexed file on bigo's page; my own version of this set is split into its separate components.) what i hadn't heard before was braxton's speech, preceding the climactic gtm performance. this in itself is well worth hearing, of course... and let's all hope that our man's wishes come true and that the future sees more opportunities for real musicians and real music, not just radio-friendly entertainment. (seems unlikely, but yes, we can hope!) the same speech also confirms something i had previously wondered about, namely that the piece played by the 12+2tet is, indeed, comp. 361.

and that's it from me for the time being... as always at this time of year, i am pretty happy to see the back of january, with its grey days and long nights: roll on spring! if you haven't already, go get the music :)

* comments

1 comment:

centrifuge said...

i would be genuinely interested in hearing this album, which really is an incredibly ambitious undertaking (and just about the most anti-commercial prospect imaginable!). the idea of such a limited instrument tackling b's solo works is fascinating... unfortunately, with the parallactic label being pretty much defunct, the album's destined to remain obscure and hard to find. [iirc the label was founded by brandon evans, himself out of the music scene for some time now... unless anyone knows differently..?]